Mayo Clinic medical student Diem Vu's life could have gone in a different direction had she chosen to follow one of her other lifelong interests. "Art has been one of my passions ever since I could hold a pencil," she writes in a recent blog post for in-Training, the self-described "agora of the medical student community." It wasn't until college that Vu says she found a way to combine art and medicine through medical illustration. In the end, she chose medicine because of "the roles and responsibilities in healing patients with which physicians are privileged." But she says she still harbors a curiosity for medical illustration. Fortunately, we've got a crack team of medical illustrators here at Mayo Clinic, and Vu recently got to hang out with them and write about it for in-Training's "Med Student Shadows" series.
During her weeklong tour with the medical illustration team (something that also satisfied a requirement in Mayo Medical School's "selectives" curriculum) Vu writes that she "watched in amazement as the illustrators meticulously drew and painted beautiful images of hearts, arteries, bowels and stem cells on their Cintiq tablet screens." She was also front-and-center for the magic that goes into making "muscles contract and DNA molecules spin" in creations for patient education kiosks throughout Mayo Clinic. Vu says the illustrators were more than happy to share what they know along the way. "The illustrators also helped me review anatomy and learn new surgical techniques, as many of their commissions were requested by surgeons wishing to use the images as teaching tools," she writes.
What she came away with, she says, is a new appreciation for the role medical illustrators play in patient care. And an appreciation for their ability to turn complex medical concepts "into easily-understood illustrations and diagrams so others can learn."
That's all in a day's work, according to Mayo Clinic Senior Medical Illustrator Mike King. "Illustrations help clarify narratives," King tells us. "The drawings can supplement stories, and if done well enough, function as stories themselves. The ability to write and communicate with precision is a critical skill for the teaching physician. I think the students who visit us realize that we need to be precise and accurate with visual descriptions as well. Given this perspective, a physician begins to understand the value provided by a medical illustrator."
King says that value, however, isn't just a one-way street. The students and others they work with "provide us with perspective and feedback, too," he says. "And given the level of experience and intellect of our physicians, researchers and students, that helps us continually learn and improve."
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